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So many times we have heard stories about people with mental illness being killed by police, starving to death, being exposed to terrible conditions, or seeing a really sick person on the street who clearly cannot care for him or herself. It is something that we hope to never get used to even though it is so ubiquitous. It makes the rest of us with mental illness feel bad, because each one of these people is one of our own. It could have so easily happened to one of us. It is also easy to discount people with mental illness because most people never think they will be in that position. However, it touches all our lives whether or not we are willing to face it.
Our editorial board learned this week of the tragic death of Jerome Murdough, a 56-year-old homeless man who died alone in his isolation cell on Riker’s Island. He was on multiple anti-psychotic medications and had been in jail for a week following his arrest for trespassing. He had not been checked on in several hours and essentially baked to death in his cell. What if this had been our son or friend or husband or parent? Would we be there in front of this prison, protesting?
Let his death not pass in vain. Let us allow this tragic experience to be a reminder that mentally ill people are people first, not just statistics or diagnoses. It is the fear of mental illness that drives people away from those of us that live with it. But what brings people towards us is our humanity, our empathy, and our shared vision of a world in which people’s rights and needs are secure and important. This tragedy will inspire us to come together with the common purpose of helping to prevent such losses. This could have easily been prevented. The humanity we gain from these tragic losses is the resolve to not allow our fears to get in the way of treating each other like human beings.